They wanted to hold a summer solstice ritual–but it turned into a melée!
“An afternoon ritual, how pleasant,” Jaguar Priestess said as she entered the living room of Gladwyn’s country house. “Merry meet, Witch sisters!”
“Welcome, Jaguar,” Gladwyn said. “How summery you look in that outfit! Suits you, especially with the turquoise-and-silver necklace and bracelet.”
“Thank you,” Jaguar Priestess said, looking down at her tunic and trousers of sea-blue chiffon. “It’s so boiling hot today I couldn’t bear the thought of wearing anything but this.”
Indeed, summer had settled like a smothering blanket over the entire area, leaving everyone breathless and wilting. On this longest day of the year sunlight blazed through the garden and patio outside, through the sliding glass door of the living room and onto the faces of the women seated inside.
“While we’re waiting for Passionata to join us, why don’t you tell us about your talk yesterday, Gladwyn?” TigerLily asked.
Gladwyn smiled. “It went quite well, I thought. Seven women from the town attended. I talked about herbs and their uses in food, aromatherapy, and medicine, and just lightly touched on the use of certain herbs for contraception. Of course, I didn’t mention the Craft of the Wise.”
“Wise of you,” Arielle said with a laugh.
“Do you suppose there are any Witches in the area?” Rhiannon asked.
“I doubt it,” Gladwyn said. “Isn’t it disheartening! In Maryland there seems to be a coven on every block, whereas here in Virginia you have to beat the bushes to find a single hedgewitch.”
“Consider the politics of those two states,” Rowan said, “and consider which political party controls the state legislatures.”
“You’re right,” Gladwyn said. She brightened. “However, come to think of it, when I was shopping in Target the other week a young man looked at my pentacle ring and said ‘Merry meet.’ I said, ‘Merry meet! Are you one of us?’ And he nodded.”
“H’mm,” Coventina said. “Did you have your ring on yesterday when the women were here?”
Gladwyn looked startled. “Yes. It’s so much a part of me I forget I’m wearing it.”
“That’s a beautiful altar you’ve created, Gladwyn,” Brianna Hestia said, changing the subject. “I love the idea of a ‘lavender Litha’!”
All eyes went to the round table in the middle of the room, on which reposed a statue of Juno, a lavender-scented candle representing the element of Fire, a bottle of lavender spray for Water, a burner holding lavender incense for Air, and sprigs of fresh lavender laid on the altar cloth to represent Earth.
“Did you make the lavender water yourself, Gladwyn?” Green Dragon asked. “I’m very interested in herbal infusions.”
“Speaking of herbal infusions,” Passionata said, coming into the room, “the only one I’m going to need is raspberry-leaf tea–early next year.”
Ten heads swiveled and ten pairs of eyes stared.
“Yes,” Passionata said, dropping into a chair beside Ceres Vegetina. “It seems that Sylvan and I begot ourselves a Beltane baby who will be born at Imbolc! If all goes well,” she added anxiously, patting her stomach.
“Pash darling, congratulations!”
Cries of delight rose from the Circle sisters as they surrounded Passionata and bestowed hugs and kisses on her. Rowan whipped out her mobile and began videoing the scene.
“Witch Sis, eighty-five percent of all first pregnancies are successful,” TigerLily said when the tumult subsided. “Yours will be the same.”
“This is wonderful,” Gladwyn said, smiling at Passionata. “We’re going to invoke Juno for our ritual today, and she’s the goddess of marriage and pregnant women.”
“Speaking of marriage,” Passionata said, “Sylvan and I are going to be handfasted at Lammas, and you’re all invited!”
“We’ll look forward to it,” Rhiannon said. “You know, Diana, also known as Artemis, is considered to be the goddess of childbirth.”
Coventina snorted. “She was a virgin goddess!”
“Well, long ago ‘virgin’ meant ‘belonging to no man’,” Rowan said. “The point is, Artemis-Diana was a lunar deity, and therefore reigned over the triple mysteries of women—menstruation, childbirth, and menopause.”
Gladwyn rose, athame in hand, and said. “As you all know, we’re celebrating Midsummer, also known as ‘Litha,’ in the Craft of the Wise.”
“Goodness,” Brianna Hestia said. “Summer has just started—how can it be midsummer already?”
“Meterological summer began on June first,” Green Dragon said. “But in the Craft, summer begins at Beltane and ends on August first, Lammas, so today really is midsummer. Makes sense when you think about it.”
“Wow,” Brianna said. “There’s so much stuff I have to unlearn.”
“You’ll do it, dear,” Coventina said, squeezing her hand.
Gladwyn pulled aside the sliding screen door leading to the shaded terrace outside. “If someone will pick up the altar and bring it out here, we’ll conduct our ritual on the patio. The shaded part of the herb garden is quite cool.”
But as Jaguar and TigerLily went to pick up the table, a commotion could be heard outdoors.
“What’s that noise?” Gladwyn asked, frowning.
In the next few seconds a group of men burst into the room, their faces contorted with rage. They immediately began pummeling the women nearest them, yelling obscenities.
The women being attacked screamed and fought back.
“Illegitimate offspring of a diseased camel!” yelled Arielle, who collected insults the way some people collect coins or stamps. “Slubberdegullion! You’re as ugly as a salad!”
“Dirtbags! Pond scum!” Ceres Vegetina yelled, getting into the spirit of the thing.
Coventina and Rhiannon, who had been sitting next the door that led to the hallway, hustled Brianna Hestia and Passionata out of the living room and down the hall. While Rhiannon kept an eye out, Coventina yanked the powder room door open and pushed Brianna and Passionata inside. “Lock the door and don’t come out until we tell you to,” she ordered. “We’ll be right here.”
In the powder room Brianna immediately dialed 9-1-1 on her mobile; Passionata speed-dialed Sylvan.
Meanwhile, in the living room the battle raged on.
“Grandson of a stinking jackal! Great-grandson of a plucked vulture! You’re uglier than a monkey’s armpit!” Arielle yelled as she kicked a man who was trying unsuccessfully to grab hold of her.
With great presence of mind Rowan, standing in a corner away from the fracas, videoed the scene on her iPhone. Meanwhile, Jaguar, Green Dragon, and TigerLily had seized the fireplace implements and begun whacking the men across the buttocks and back, howling as they did so.
Arielle was still hurling insults as she fought. “You thunder, you lightning, you cockroach spittle!”
“Scumbucket!” yelled Ceres, not to be outdone, as she kneed a man in the groin.
The taunts shouted by the men were the standard variety employed by men who hate women, consisting mostly of one-syllable names of female body parts.
As suddenly as it had begun, the battle ended. All at once the men began pushing and shoving to get through the doorway to the patio. They ran through the garden, pursued by TigerLily and Green Dragon.
“License plates,” Green Dragon said to TigerLily, panting as she ran.
In the house Gladwyn, Ceres Vegetina, and Arielle sat down hard on the living room sofa, which now looked considerably the worse for wear. Dismally they surveyed the statuette of Juno, now smashed into several pieces, the flattened lavender candle, the trampled incense sticks and lavender sprigs.
“Talk about a war on women,” Gladwyn said faintly. “We were just in it!”
“And we won,” Arielle said.
“I don’t know whether we won or not,” Jaguar said. “We survived.”
“We’re all dripping with sweat,” Ceres said, “and Gladwyn, there’s blood on your lip.”
Gladwyn had bruises on her face and a swollen jaw. Arielle had a black eye and Ceres a bruise on her temple.
“I quite enjoyed being an old battle-axe,” Arielle said with satisfaction. “I was aspecting Athena the whole time.”
“I invoked Durga,” Jaguar Priestess said. Her glossy black hair had tumbled out of its chignon during the fight and now hung lankly around her face.
Green Dragon, who had come back with TigerLily, smiled grimly. “And I was calling on Xena, Warrior Princess. Wish I’d had her chakram.”
“We should have invoked Hecate or even Kali,” TigerLily muttered.
“Please, TigerLily, my love!” Gladwyn said. “Please don’t utter those names. Those goddesses are not to be spoken of unless we’re in sacred space. They’re very touchy and Gaia knows we don’t want to upset them. I’ve seen what happens when they’re displeased.” She shuddered.
“What the hell brought this assault on?” Green Dragon asked.
“I’m not sure,” Gladwyn said, “but I wonder if it had something to do with my lecture yesterday. Wonder if one of the women went home and told her husband about it and he decided he didn’t like ‘the wimmenfolk’ getting together to talk about herbal knowledge.”
“That could be it, I suppose,” Green Dragon agreed. “And if someone recognized your pentagram ring as symbolic of Witchcraft, well…”
They looked at each other. Then Jaguar Priestess, who had sunk into an armchair, sprang up again.
“Don’t move, sisters,” she warned, whipping out her mobile to snap photos of each of them.
“Let me take one of you, Jaguar,” TigerLily said. “You’re a wreck.”
Indeed, the delicate sea-blue chiffon tunic and trousers were torn and trampled. Jaguar Priestess’s necklace had been yanked so hard that her neck bore the marks where the metal had scraped her skin. Her face still bore the imprint of a man’s hand, although it was fading. “Be sure to photograph the property damage too,” she said.
“Well,” Gladwyn said with a sigh, “what do we do now?”
“I’ve already called the police,” Brianna Hestia said, coming back into the living room with Passionata behind her. “They’re on their way.”
“Fat lot of good they’ll be,” Coventina said bitterly. “They probably play poker with those criminals.”
“Nevertheless, we have to report it,” Brianna said crisply. “And if nothing is done about this we’ll sue in civil court. I’m not sure Elspeth is licensed to practice law in Virginia but I know she’ll say these dirtbags are guilty of trespassing, assault and battery, property damage…”
“Home invasion,” Passionata added. “Infringement of the right to free speech, the right to gather peacefully…”
“I think the right to gather pertains to public spaces,” Brianna said with a frown. “I wish I were more informed about the law.”
“Dear Goddess, I’d like something to drink,” Arielle said. “All that fighting made me thirsty.”
Gladwyn roused herself from the trance into which she appeared to have fallen. “Of course. I have some rosemary lemonade in the dining room. Come on, Circle sisters.”
In the dining room the Witches glumly surveyed the table, attractively laid out with china cups and saucers, plates, the white linen table cloth and napkins embroidered with sprays of purple lavender flowers, and silver forks and spoons. “I can make some tea,” Gladwyn offered. “I have Darjeeling with lemon and sugar.”
“I’ll help you,” Rhiannon said. “Does anyone want anything to eat?”
There were cucumber sandwiches ready on a plate under plastic wrap, triangles of lavender shortbread, and a pyramid of Ceres Vegetina’s vegan raspberry thumbprint cookies, but no one felt like eating.
“Just lemonade, thanks,” Passionata said. “Thank Juno I haven’t got to the nausea stage yet. I hope Beltane Baby is all right. Sylvan should be here any minute. He drove me here and was in our room at the bed-and-breakfast place when I called him just now.”
“Beltane Babe will be fine,” Green Dragon said, slipping an arm around her shoulders.
“Here they come,” Rowan said, looking out the window. A police cruiser had drawn up in front of the house and parked. Two uniformed officers got out of the car. “Green Dragon,” Rowan said, speaking very fast, “let’s ‘bump’ the pictures from my iPhone to yours. What if the police try to confiscate my phone because I’ve got photos and video of the evidence?”
“Done,” Green Dragon said, bumping her telephone against Rowan’s. She then turned and bumped phones with Rhiannon, TigerLily, and Gladwyn.
Another car slid into place behind the police cruiser; the women heard the brakes being slammed on, then a thud as the driver’s door opened and Sylvan erupted from the vehicle. He flew up the path behind the police officers, eyes wild, face set. “Where’s my fiancée?”
After the police left, the Circle sisters and Sylvan returned to the dining room.
“I’ll make some more tea,” Rhiannon said. “We might as well finish all this before we have to report to the police station to give depositions and look at the perp lineup.”
“At least we were able to give the police one of the license plate numbers,” Green Dragon said. “That should help.”
Silence prevailed as everyone set to work on the food.
“You know,” Gladwyn said, “I’m not going to take this lying down. I’m going to call a couple of newspapers and a couple of TV stations and let them know about this. And I’ll contact some blogs.”
Rowan nodded. “We’ve got video and photos. Even if the police decide not to prosecute their buddies, we can get back at them.”
“How do you know the perps were buddies with the police?” Sylvan asked. He sat next to Passionata, one arm around her.
Gladwyn explained. “Fortunately, I was able to provide the police with a list of the names of the women who were here yesterday and a theory as to who the perps were.”
“I’ll tell you something else,” Passionata said slowly. “If those jerks don’t want women to have herbal knowledge, too bad! We can defeat them! We’re not helpless–we have magic.” She looked at the others seated around the table. “We have the magic of the Internet!”
Arielle, who still hadn’t got to grips with the latest technology, nodded enthusiastically. “We can email herbal recipes to everyone we know!”
A babble of excited voices broke out as the Circle sisters discussed their next steps.
“We can text!”
“We can tweet!”
“We can Skype!”
“We’ll organize flash mobs!”
“We can upload videos of how to make herbal infusions on YouTube!”
Gladwyn tapped her teacup with a spoon and the conversations died away. She looked around the table, meeting each pair of eyes.
“We have to become wise women,” she said. “We have to reclaim all the herbal knowledge that went up in the smoke of witchfires during medieval times and the Renaissance. We’ll invoke Juno, Artemis-Diana, and Hestia to help us.”
“And we male Witches have to become sages,” Sylvan said. “I want to acquire this knowledge as well, because I have every intention of being present when our baby is born.”
Passionata smiled at him while the other Witches murmured approval.
“I’ll send around an email,” Gladwyn went on. “As I see it, we have to research several different areas: the properties of European and North and South American herbs, not only with respect to contraception and abortion, but to childbirth, lactation, and recovery. We also have to find out whether it’s illegal to disseminate such information on line. None of us have medical degrees.”
“A lot of us don’t have degrees in early childhood education and cooking either,” TigerLily said with a laugh, “but we do it anyway.”
“Another thing,” Gladwyn went on, “is that we need to identify our target audience. Where can we reach working women, women at home, college women, and teenaged girls? And which languages will we need? English and Spanish, of course, but which others?”
“We should also identify everyone who would want to stop us from doing this,” Green Dragon said. “I mean certainly we can use the Internet—we can blog, we can do all the other things, but we have to consider potential hackers.”
“And spooks,” Brianna said. “Every email conversation, every telephone conversation, every tweet can be traced. Spooks can find out your IP address from your Tweets.”
“Easy enough to evade,” Sylvan said. “You can use Tor to browse if you don’t want anyone to know where your browser’s been. You can use Silent Circle or Redphone to make sure your calls are secure. There are numerous ways to hide your cyber trail.”
“It’s time to make our way to the police station,” Rhiannon reminded Gladwyn. “They said to give them an hour to organize a lineup and it’s certainly been that.”
“All right,” Gladwyn said. “You know, we never did invoke Juno, but let’s ask her blessing on our endeavors. Who would like to do it? Does anyone here have Juno as a matron goddess?”
“I do,” Ceres Vegetina said. “I had a birthday last week. Let’s rise and join hands.”
Everyone did so.
Ceres closed her eyes and spoke. “Juno, Goddess of beginnings, including marriage; Juno, protectress of women, Juno, guardian of the female spirit, protect our circle and bless our endeavors as we avail ourselves of thy divine influence. Stay if you will, go if you must. Hail and farewell.”
“Hail and farewell,” the others echoed.
Ceres opened her eyes. “And now, we’ll merry meet, merry part…”
“And merry meet again,” Passionata said, “at Lammas!”